Pokémon is a series that Nintendo could very easily get lazy with. Bang in a few hundred new easily-merchandisable monsters, flash them past impressionable kiddies, then go to sleep on freshly made beds of cash. Some previous entries have done just that – looking at you, Ruby and Sapphire – but for X and Y, we’re very pleased to find there’s been a near-total overhaul, one bringing the series up to date for players young and old.
The most immediate improvement is visual, finally delivering the 3D treatment fans have been begging for for years. Unfortunately, only certain key locations are given the extra eyecandy, but even the more traditional top-down paths benefit from modelled characters rather than sprites. In battle, attack animations are significantly improved, now more likely to reflect what the Pokémon has actually done. This does lead to very occasional lag, but it was never game-breaking.
At its core, the gameplay remains the same, the goal being to catalogue every Pokémon in the land and train them through turn-based combat. Battles most often pit one ‘mon at a time against another, though paired and triple battles aren’t uncommon. Sky Battles force you to fight with flying critters, a newly introduced category no doubt born of awareness that every player carries one in their party simply to use the fast-travel Fly move. That in itself will be a godsend in X/Y, since the Kalos region the game is set in – based on France, with architecture and historical notes to match – is gargantuan. Surprisingly, there isn’t a vast array of brand new Pokémon to catch, with only a meagre 69 introduced.
Instead, Nintendo has focused on what’s going on under the hood, so to speak. Pokémon is a game of numbers, from overall level number and health points, to hidden values determining attack potency or evasion. A new Super Training mode, consisting of mini-games played on the 3DS’ lower touch screen, lets you improve all these base statistics, unlocking the potential to vastly alter each individual Pokémon. For instance, put the effort into raising Pikachu’s speed stat and teach it the move Electro Ball, which powers up in relation to speed, and you’ll end up with an immensely powerful electrical mouse.
Similarly, O-Powers let you temporarily boost your whole party’s stats in certain areas, though these buffs require spending energy before battles, which replenishes over time. The level of customisation that’s now available to tactically minded players is frankly staggering. Another new addition, Mega Evolution seems more spectacle though, allowing certain creatures to briefly evolve beyond their ‘final’ forms. While it brings a power spike, there’s not as much depth to the feature as there could be. Vastly improved online trading and battling systems (accessible at all times from the bottom screen, rather than having to trek to a Pokémon Center in-game) are the icing on the cake for what is easily the finest Pokémon game to date.
It may still look cute and simple but there’s a wealth of content and strategy to be found under its adorable shell.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen